Rural Pune is known for growing an especially fragrant variety of rice – Indrayani – that’s popular throughout the state for its aromatic flavour which goes very well with meat curries. Over the last few years, agriculturist Shrikant Ingalhalikar is trying to do something else with his paddy other than producing rice. He has taken up what’s referred to as ‘Paddy Art’. In this, the farmer-artist creates mammoth images of their choice by planting different coloured rice varieties in huge fields.
This is the fourth consecutive year for Ingalhalikar to create beautiful eye-catching shapes in his rice field located at Gorhe Budruk on Sinhagad Road near Pune.
Paddy Art in Japanese is called Tambo Ato, started in Japan’s Inakatade village in 1993, when a group of farmers started a novel way of landscape design to beautify their fields. That year, they created a huge replica of the iconic Mount Iwaki on a farm by growing rice crops with leaves of different colours. Since then, Inakadate’s paddy art has only grown with more farmers participating in the activity and even local government providing them support. Every year, the tiny village in Tohuku region, Northeastern region, with a population of about 8,000 attracts over 200,000 visitors a year.
Ingalhalikar, 69, is a mechanical engineer by education but a farmer by choice. He has been growing paddy in his fields in rural Pune for the last 30 years and has also explored the Sahyadri mountain range known for its bio-diversity, collecting various varieties of flowers, wild plants and studying the Western Ghats for its flora and fauna.
He knew and had heard about paddy art in Japan, but couldn’t try it in his own field until a few years ago. While studying about agricultural practices in hilly regions of the state, he came across a black coloured rice variety. The Japanese are reserved about sharing the seeds of the coloured paddy varieties, he says.
“For paddy art you must have multi-coloured rice varieties. In India, one comes across only green-leafed variety. Accidentally, during one of my travels, I was introduced to a black-leafed variety called Nazar Bhat in a remote part of Kolhapur. The farmers there had planted a small bunch of black-coloured plants in a green paddy field as a ‘black spot’ to protect the crop from evil eyes,” says Ingalhalikar.
Transferring a design from an image or sketch to a live paddy field involves a lot of careful work. The design is made in a computer and the enlarged to proportion according to the field’s dimensions. After drawing grid-lines on paper, these are replicated on the field and the saplings are planted accordingly. The entire process takes months and a lot of manual work.
In 2016, Ingalhalikar had created paddy art of Lord Ganesh followed by the image of the Black Panther in 2017. In 2018, he created a giant image of the Emerald Dove.
This year’s Paddy Art presents a 120×70 feet image of yet another fauna element of Western Ghats, a rare snake — Bamboo Pit Viper — which is found in the forests in peninsular India. The viper can be seen in places such as Matheran, Bhimashankar, Mahabaleshwar, Koyna, Amboli and Goa.
“The challenging part of this creation was the canvas of 750 sqm of knee-deep mud. The art includes the alive medium of the rice crop, which creates an illusion of the giant painting coming alive as the wind blows. I have ear-marked the images of the Malabar Gliding Frog and the Black Eagle, which I hope we can work on in the coming years,” says Ingalhalikar.
Although, he’s a pioneer of the art in the country, he’s not very hopeful about the future of the art in India.
“In Inakatade, about 300-350 persons participate in the planting and 20 farmers have come together to provide the canvas field. Here, I’m doing it alone. For the paddy art to sustain and proliferate, landscape designers and artists have to take interest. I don’t see that happening. Also, we don’t have any audience. Due to social media, people watch the images of my work on Whatsapp and Facebook. They ‘Like’ them or ‘Forward’ them but don’t bother to visit the field and see the art from a higher place. Given the amount of efforts and funds involved, it’s difficult to sustain it this way,” says Ingalhalikar.